What we love about Bolivia.
As we walked across the La Quiaca/ Villazón border into Bolivia, we were immediately struck by the colorful outfits, aroma of delicious food wafting from the abundance of street food vendors, and the dramatic decrease in prices. When we ventured into the rural farm communities on our trek from Potosí to Cochabamba, we were overcome with the grandiosity of these rugged mountains and the simple, perfect lives of the colorful people living within them. We had a hunch we’d love this place from the stories of fellow travelers and friends, and we do! Here are a few of our favorite things:
- Despite warnings of ransom kidnappers and natives who sacrifice women and children, we have found people to be genuinely friendly, greeting us with big toothless smiles on the trail
- Quechua is the dominant language in the rural areas of Bolivia. Most elderly and children do not know Spanish so usually we seek out the folks in between for translation.
- Men, who farm the fields, wear colorful pointy winter hats with triangular ear flaps and occasionally colorful leg warmers or ponchos
- The rural women of Bolivia wear knee-length skirts (usually velvet although not pictured) with a bustle and slip underneath, a lace or crochet button-down undershirt, sweater cardigan or shawl, stockings (if it is cold), recycled tire rubber sandals, and to top it all off, a Charlie Chaplin top hat or white straw sun hat with flowers.
- Womens’ outfits usually do not match and almost always include something sparkly. Love it!
It’s Dirt Cheap!
- After crossing the border we quickly found we had to adjust our Argentina and Chile route-finding method
- Tourist information centers generally do not exist and if they do they do not have maps (?)
- People in the city do not venture into the rural areas so we need to get into the rural areas before mapping out our precise route
- Rural folk do not travel far (they travel by foot, not by horse like the ranchers in Argentina and Chile), so they aren’t familiar with the land and roads more than a day or two’s walk from their home
- We still ask ask ask! People are our map. The difference here in Bolivia is that we don’t know what our map looks like more than a day or two ahead.
What have we been up to so far?
Kicking it off at the Uyuni Salt Flat
Before setting out on the trail from Potosí to Cochabamba, we made a must-see tourist stop at Bolivia’s infamous Uyuni salt flat where we excitedly met up with our fifth chica loca, Sydney Doolittle, Shelley’s friend from Breckenridge, who is hiking with us for five weeks through Bolivia. Instead of taking the more expensive traditional route of exploring the salt flat via a guided jeep tour, we ended up at an electronica festival for two nights of camping on the salt flat (we know, very hippie of us). The salt flat provided for several fun perception pictures and the best sunsets of our lives (Sarah and Shelley are now in agreement on the best sunset of the trip- Sarah previously voted for Estancia Aurora near Copahue, Argentina and Shelley for the a salt laguna near Antofogasta, Argentina).
Beautiful City of Potosí
From Uyuni we took a thankfully uneventful bus ride east to Potosí. Potosí completely surprised us compared to the dusty, somewhat run-down streets of small Uyuni. Potosí’s high-walled cobblestone pedestrian streets reminded us of Italy. Potosí was once (in the 1500s) one of the largest and richest cities in the world due to its establishment as a silver mine for the Spanish Empire. It is also one of the highest cities in the world at 4,090m (13,420ft).
Hitting the Trail – from Potosí to Ocurì
From Potosí we hit the trail north through the mountains to Cochabamba. We had no idea what to expect. Our scientist, Peter, informed us that we’d be going through a roadless area of 2.8 million hectars (the size of the state of Vermont) and was curious how we would navigate the never-ending “ups and downs”. To our surprise, roughly one day out of the city, we found ourselves hiking on unmapped rural dirt roads cutting corners around mountains and switchbacking to and from valleys. On top of that, we found ourselves surrounded by people! In Argentina and Chile, we would see evidence of civilization roughly once a day at a cowboy outpost or corral. Here among the rural farming communities of Bolivia, we see people on the hour and would pass through a few villages per day. Our surroundings were breathtaking- red and purple mountains covered in a patchwork of small farming plots that appear as if they are going to slip off the mountain into the valleys below.
- Sleeping at 4,400m (14,435ft) – highest campsite yet!
- Note to our parents for future birthdays: we all want donkeys. They are the darndest cutest animals ever!
- Potatoes and sheep’s cheese! Our new friend Filomena shared her mother’s precious potatoes and goat cheese with Sonnet and me- one of the best things we have ever tasted!!
- Girl talk as we were going to bed with sweet and giggly Daisy and Lucinda- two girls who hosted us in their home in Taitani. They didn’t know where the United States or Atlantic Ocean were (although we ironically spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to plug their cell phones into various extension cords).
- Sarah, Shelley and Sydney arrived in Ocurí in time for a delicious, warm lunch of vegetable soup and a lunch plate of rice, vegetables and egg
- Despite occasionally being short of breath on the switchbacks at 14,000ft, Bolivia’s current environment (hopefully I don’t jinx us) is generally ideal for hiking- it’s warm with a light breeze, no precipitation (but there are running rivers for drinking water), a low-arc sun, and cool nights (it also never snows in this region)
- Shelley used her USA passport throughout Argentina and Chile and opted to use her Canadian passport to enter Bolivia since it’s hassle and duty free (Sarah, Sonnet and I had to fill out an extensive visa form in the Bolivian consulate in Jujuy, Argentina and pay $158USD). When we arrived at the border, they wouldn’t let her use the Canadian passport because it didn’t have an exit stamp from Argentina. After much debate, she ended up having to pay the $158USD to cross the border (but ironically didn’t have to fill out any of the visa paperwork?!).
- Sonnet got sick in Potosí so we decided to meet the chicas the next day at Ojo del Inca. There was a road block due to labor strike that Sonnet and I had to navigate around via a combination of taxi, micro bus and foot. The chicas just walked right through- easier by foot!
- Sarah has eating utensil bad luck- this whole trip she has been wishing for Shelley’s and my Guyot Designs Microbites Utensils. Her most recent eating utensil (a spoon from a hostel) was dropped into the deep hot springs of Ojo del Inca. Here’s to hoping it arrives in our June resupply!
- It took me two days of travelling via bus and paid hitching to meet back up with the chicas after accompanying Sonnet back to Potosí – shows how far out there they were!
- Saying goodbye to Sonnet who was our faithful companion for two months (one sixth of our trip!). Sonnet, we miss your generous sharing of snacks, your bedtime stories, valuable decision-making skills, and company on the trail. For me personally, I feel so blessed to have shared this experience with you. Thank you for joining us and perhaps we can convince you to return for Ecuador??